By DALE MADISON
Three years ago, the City of Wilton Manors opened a monthly “Green Market” at Hagen Park. The market was a success until the sweltering days of summer arrived, and many of the vendors decided that it was time to either find an air conditioned venue, or wait until the cooler winds of fall and winter swept into South Florida once again.
Then entrepreneurs Frank Altieri and Ron Leonard came up with an idea. “What if we featured a ‘green market’ that wasn’t just all fruits and vegetables?” Altieri wondered. Thus the Wilton Manors Green Market was born.
“We researched and reached out to others in the community and wow, what a difference,” Altieri explains. “We are here whether its ‘hot or not’ every Saturday and Sunday, opening at 9 a.m. and closing at 2 p.m. The crowds keep growing every week.”
Altieri says that it was just a matter of demographics. “There was indeed a niche in the community for a Farmers Market, and I feel we have filled that,” he says. “On any given weekend, we have between 10 and 20 vendors, and of course, we are always looking for more, and more varied vendors. We want unique individuals.”
Among his current “crop” of merchants, Altieri notes, “we have an incredible vendor with fruits and vegetables—items that you won’t find in a supermarket. We have organic items, which so many people in this community really want.” What about guilty pleasures? “[We have] homemade cookies that you just can’t beat. Olive oils and vinegars, orchids that you won’t find anywhere else, New York pickles, fresh herbs, and of course, the best soups on the planet,” he adds, shamelessly, I might add, since he’s the one who makes the soups.
“Every week I make about six different homemade soups with all fresh ingredients for the market,” he quips. At the same time we were speaking, Carmine Martorilli and his partner, Bob Foster, popped in to make a few purchases. With apparent “paisan” solidarity, he seconded Altieri’s vote on the soup.
“Oh my God, you will never find better soups, even if you try to make them yourself,” he offered in praise. “These are the best.” Chimed in Foster, “His matzo ball soup is over the top.”
Ladles aside, Altieri stresses his and Leonard’s commitment to bringing in new vendors and offerings, and to see the event blossom, especially now that the cooler weather is coming. “We are always looking for new vendors to join, and it’s very simple: You must sign for at least four days, and it’s $25 per day, so we really make it affordable,” he notes.
“Of course, parking during those hours of 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. is free [at the city parking lot adjacent to Wilton Manors City Hall], so that is never an issue,” Altieri explains. “The City of Wilton Manors has been great to work with. They want to see more and new events coming to the area.”
For more information, visit greenwilton.com.